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Posts Tagged ‘Social CRM’

The Evolution of Customer Community

Community: a group of people sharing common characteristics, common history or common social, economic, or political interests, often located in close physical proximity to other members; interactions are usually face-to-face. 1

Online Community: Same as above, with two big caveats, the proximity is virtual and interactions are digital. The small caveat is that online the commonality among members might not be as significant, but are just as real (like shared product, service or technical interest).

It is not New, but it is Different

What should be evident is that the idea of a community is not a new concept. What is new, however, is the transition from physical proximity to virtual proximity. In the purest of context, virtual communities began about as quickly as the Internet itself, predating the Web or fancy graphical interfaces. Virtual communities progressed from bulletin boards to forums and now we have something even better. What we have now are enhanced graphical capabilities and multiple device support; the user experience is better. One problem remains; integrating communities with the rest of the business. Too often, communities are sets of isolated conversations lost in the vastness of the web.

           Communities should be used to bridge the gap from social media conversation to digital interactions with a purpose? Today many organization are trying to figure out how to leverage social conversations and these new connections to deliver a better customer experience. Customer communities are great way to accomplish this goal. As much as we would like to do it, taking  the online conversations people are having about your company in Facebook and Twitter and dumping them into a CRM system just does not provide a whole lot of value. As you have learned with forums, your customers really do want to connect with you and while the basics have not changed, customers expect more as does your business.

But. In order to really leverage the benefits from social, you have to bring together people, processes, and technology necessary to listen, guide, and engage your customers in the digital world. That means paying attention, understanding who your customers are, and providing them with relevant information for the appropriate stage in the customer lifecycle. In that way, you can truly leverage the capabilities of social media to deliver the kinds of customer experiences that will keep them bringing their business back again and again.

Communities provide a smart way to build engagement in a way that provides your customers with navigable issue resolution, as well as to provide feedback and insights to you and your team.

A customer community allows you to collect and analyze data, derive insights about your customers that will then allow you to provide them with relevant, appropriate information at key points along the journey. Today’s forums, or customer communities, can be strongly linked to social networks in order to maximize insight, streamline campaigns, and drive organizational shift to bring your company into the social age. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

(This post is written as we announce our recent work in building a bridge between SugarCRM and Get Satisfaction)

Enterprise Customer Experience, A Convergence

January 22, 2013 5 comments

Customer Experience is the superset of sensations, emotions and perceptions felt by your customers before, during and after product or service use. Enterprise Customer Experience represents the people, internal processes and technology required to listen, guide and engage your customers in the digital world; all towards creating better and enhanced experiences. Designing positive experiences begins with understanding needs and wants. Seems logical right? How else can you understand what your customer’s wants and needs, if you do not listen first?

The very next part is to prove that you are listening, if actions do not result, then it is not really listening at all. Yes, in this day and age, you do need to provide proof. For, example, if you do not plan to take any actions based on what you hear, are you really listening? That said, there are many ways to show that you are listening. The first is transparency, allowing people to see inside the organization where they can witness what you are doing, often at their bequest. The second, more interesting way is to specifically give people what they are looking for, as in information, service or a product enhancement.

To customers, being open means more than simply looking through the window, but being able to walk through the front door and participate. An engaging conversation is one where all voices are heard and respected and no one is simply listening, waiting to talk. In order to improve customer experience, you, your team and the whole organization needs to convert the listening to information that can be used to collaborate, co-create and engage at a personal level with your customers. This will take analyzing the data, providing relevant, consistent content, where and when your customers want it, need it and are expecting it.

It is time to move beyond what needs to be done and why it needs to be done.  Some parts of your organization are more advanced than others, some are ready and some are not.  The starting point should be clear. What is less clear is exactly HOW to progress in a uniform fashion from understanding what needs to be done, to actually doing it.  It is time to progress from departmental Social Media initiatives to organizational digital communication programs. These programs should have defined and coordinated objectives. As the team and understanding of the technology mature, Social CRM is next logical step, with both business and technical integration and a digitally aware customer data model.  Internally, CRM will have certain objectives, but it is time to add customer centricity, directed individual engagement and customer collaboration to those objectives. Finally, the end-game, Enterprise Customer Experience. Just my name for it, I suppose, but it seems to fit.

I put together a few slides where I tried to visualize some of my thoughts. The copy is taken from a white paper we just released as well. If you would like a copy of the white paper, please just send me an email mitch.lieberman – at – dri-global.com and I am happy to forward it along.

Social Media Initiatives are too often:

  • Departmental and Uncoordinated,
  • Loosely defined and with soft qualitative objectives,
  • Lacking strong guidance that aligns with corporate vision
  • Have little or no Governance or Oversight
  • Driven by metrics with unproven value (like, follow, +)

Now to progress from disjointed efforts to coordinated and structured efforts,

Social Communication Programs that are characterized by:

  • Multiple, linked digital initiatives,
  • Defined and Coordinated goals (across departments),
  • Agreed to processes for Content,
  • Modestly Mature Governance,
  • Data Capture and Burgeoning Analytics,
  • Tighter agility to act upon lessons learned.

It takes maturation of the organization to make this progression. It is important to not that up until now the discussion is much less about technology than it is about people and process.  Once the organization has matured, it is then possible to reach enhanced customer experience through Social CRM by further integrating more baseline technology, carefully and methodically.

Social CRM sets the course for creating better Customer Experiences, through:

  • Coordinated Customer Facing Communication Programs,
  • Both Technical and Business Level Integration,
  • Advanced Analytics that Improve Customer Insights,
  • Mature, Modern, Customer Data Model,
  • Personal, Customer level Interactions and Engagement.

Now things start to get very interesting. Just when everyone was comfortable with the buzzwords, we are now ready to dump the term ‘Social’. The team realizes that social is a characteristic of people. The term is dispensed with and for the purposes of Customer Experience, the CRM platform is now in charge of the digital data and used for specific purposes.

It is time to execute CRM, across the Enterprise:

  • Data, information and knowledge is universally accessible,
  • Content and digital assets are consistent and shared,
  • Back-office to front-office Collaboration creates efficiency,
  • Customer facing processes are repeatable and embedded,
  • Community and Customer Collaboration are part of the platform.

Finally, it is time to complete the

Enterprise Customer Experience vision:

  • Customer centricity is a reality,
  • Directed engagement at the level of the individual
  • Analytics are predictive,
  • Customer expectations are understood and met,
  • Communications are conversational and collaborative,
  • The organization is highly collaborative,
  • Organizational culture is mature and ready.

The Social CRM Non-Revolution

October 29, 2012 1 comment

Organizations big and small are feeling pressure to get everything “right.” Social interactions are public, tweets are scrutinized, Facebook posts are challenged, networks like Pinterest Google + are growing rapidly, evolving daily. In this environment of open and public communications transparency is not really an option, it just is – get used to it. Social CRM is an opportunity, scary and daunting. Social CRM is a bridge to the connected customer.   It is part strategy, part process and yes, technology; all in support of an organizations goals and objectives. Social CRM is an enabler an extension of CRM. it allows companies to truly engage customers, resolve problems, recognize new revenue streams and gather detailed customer behavioral data. Social CRM, as an initiative will fail if it is considered revolutionary. It is transformative, an evolutionary step towards customer centricity. The complexities should not be taken lightly, as joining social media and CRM, is more nuanced than simply more channels, more rules and random best practices.

Part of the confusion comes from looking at social as a new phenomenon, as opposed to what it really is – a way to extend customer communications and interactions across new and diverse channels. Being social is as old as civilization itself. What is really new is that in the information age, in a services based economy, companies now need to listen and pay attention. The consequences to ignoring (ignorance?) will be harsh. The good news is that companies should be able predict how their social media activities will work by looking at how well they incorporated earlier technologies into their CRM discipline. For example, how well a company integrated email into its CRM and marketing channels will provide an indication of how easily Twitter, Chat and other programs will be incorporated. One of the bigger challenges will be who (which department) will “own” the social channels. Here is the answer; IT owns the infrastructure, the process is shared across the company.

What Now?

Looking at social media channels as an extension of existing CRM makes some sense; but it is not the way that many companies are incorporating social media into their daily routines.  More than half of all organizations have adopted the use of some form of social media, intending to use it in some sort of social CRM practice (Customer Service for example): >50% adopted Twitter and nearly 60% adopted Facebook. The success of Social CRM has less to do with the size of the company than with how seasoned the CRM and marketing teams are at extending their processes with newer technologies. Social CRM is about being human and scaling the company personality. Social is different when it is applied to Sales versus Customer Service or Marketing, it has to be different. This is why there is no need for a Social CRM Magic Quadrant!

Recent data suggests that larger companies (more than 1000 employees) have been using social CRM for 2+ years, but smaller companies are quickly catching up. What is really interesting is the finding that there is no “standard” method for social CRM and social CRM lead generation success. Companies with comfort and practice in integrating new media to traditional channels are the most successful, but how to turn a Tweet into a sale varies extensively by company, with other factors, such as target buyer demographics coming into play.

What is clear is that the companies who can successfully extend their CRM practices to include social media channels (in process and execution) will be at the forefront of truly leveraging ‘social’ for business benefit. Being able to tap into user behavior and communicating with them in a smart way, such as offering targeted services or information relating to a customer’s usage patterns, is the end goal of forward looking CRM. However, customers are not expecting this level of service. Customers don’t always expect an answer to their Tweet are leery of  an offer related to their customer profile (or worse, their Facebook profile), so caution is advised. Consumers and buyers will be expecting a high level of service in the coming hours, days, weeks, months and years; now is the time to get the channels ready.

This is my goal with launching DRI US – the execution, getting it right and helping others figure out how to do it also.

Regardless of how companies merge social media into CRM and other channels, one point is clear: social media gives customers a stronger voice and way to engage. Companies now have a way to leverage social channels, but they can also make social channels a powerful way for customers, advocates, investors and others to interact with their brand and become ambassadors. The emergence of Google+, Pinterest and others provide an almost hybrid combination of social media and brand visibility that can allow a powerful channel for awareness. Companies should look for ways to include these channels into their marketing, advertising and CRM programs, approaching them from the angle of how customers would first enter and engage. Those companies that are among the first to do this will be innovators in the continued emergence of social channels.

The Next Chapter Begins

October 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Every once in a while you meet a person, or a group of people who have an idea or an approach that just causes a subconscious head-nod. As you watch and observe, they carry themselves with confidence, approach work and life with energy and passion.  Problems are analyzed, dissected, solutions designed and then the real work begins. This is DRI: a team, group of people a family really, with a big heart, big ideas, more importantly, the ability and know-how to execute.

I could introduce the cast of characters, professionals, humans, friends and peers. That, however, would be self-serving and will happen organically over time. Members of the team cut their teeth in the open source ecosystem, but there is more (much more) to it than that. The shared passion is problem solving, affection for technology and innovation; creative ways to solve the hard problems. Providing value at each stage, to every client, every day is critical. The focus moves beyond what needs to be done and why, to how to execute the vision. It is about goals, objectives, experience, strategy and our customer’s, customers.

What Part Will I Play

I will be building and leading the US team. I will do my best not to break what is already working. I am not here to change anything; I am here to show the US market what we can do. The work was started in Portugal and we realized this is only the beginning. DRI is now a Global organization; DRI Global. I am part of a team, we live, learn, share and collaborate. The countries served now number 5 and it will grow beyond, carefully, measured, with caution and a deliberate approach. We are small, execute with precision and make decisions quickly.

To put a label on what we do is important, but I do so with caution.  It will include solutions labeled CEM, CRM, SFA and CMS. Further, it would be great to simply add prefixes like Social, Mobile and a suffix or two like Platform and Intelligence. Sorry that it feels like buzzword bingo; something I am trying very hard to avoid. What if the approach was bottom up; design and build a platform that solved for the specific goals and objectives required by a business? What if the focus was helping businesses to understand what jobs their customers want to do with their products and how technology can help?

We are not going to build everything from scratch, quite the opposite really. We will build on top of solid products, supported by great companies like SugarCRM, IBM, Acquia, Knime and Talend, just to name a few. In the world where outcome driven innovation is the powerful model moving forward, it is the space between the applications that is the hard part. The space between engineering and support, the space between sales and marketing or the space between the organization and the customer, these are the challenges. You may know this space by other names; social CRM, collaboration, workflow, integration or business process.

I am looking forward to this chapter with excitement – feel free to give me a call, send me a note or reach out on your favorite social network to see how we can help! Yes, we are hiring. (If you made it this far, here is the press release)

Mitch Lieberman – Managing Partner DRI US

Gartner Social CRM MQ Misses Big

October 1, 2012 19 comments

I need to begin with the following: I have the highest respect for the authors and contributors to the recently released Gartner Magic Quadrant for Social CRM. I am disagreeing with the ideas and concepts, not people. I am more troubled that what was published is so off the mark, as it leads to further confusion in an already confused space. This is not to say that the companies included in various locations are right or wrong either, it is simply the apples to oranges comparison of ‘things’.

Desperate to Call it a Strategy, yet Describe it as an Application

At the outset, the authors describe Social CRM as a” business strategy that generates opportunities”.  While I agree with the first part, it is the second part that is the struggle as it takes an inside-out company centric view. The single most important part of Social CRM is that it needs to start with an outside-in view (organizational benefits can still be realized). The focus should be on the needs of the customer, on their jobs-to-be-done, the outcome they want and their experience – it is about the customer, not the company – this is what the social part is about. While many parts of traditional CRM might remain about the company, Social extends it in the right way.

“Social CRM is based on the simple premise that you are able to interact with your customers based on their needs, not your rules. It is an extension of CRM, not a replacement, and among the important benefits is that it adds value back to the users and customers.” (Mitch Lieberman June 2010)

Social CRM is, and always has been about extending CRM, not replacing it. It is about the integrations, the connections; it is about the space between the applications, the enterprise and the customer. It is not itself another enterprise application – certainly not another silo.  It is not whether a new class of application can capture content. It is whether the current processes can become more practical and interesting for customers to share content, the capture part is easy and there are lots of applications which already do it. I apologize in advance, but I have never met a software application that can “Build Trust” (Sorry Siri).

“Social CRM, from the technology perspective, is about integration of new channels, Social Media is a channel. Properly, Social Media is dozens of channels, where you need to choose the ones right for your business. The hard part, the real work, is choosing which channels to integrate and then designing the processes around these channels – the people part.” (Previous Post)

In Social, People are the Stars, Applications take a Supporting Role

It is because of the focus on technology and applications that Gartner loses its way here. In many of their other Magic Quadrants, the maturity of the application and/or the technology is critical to the success of the initiative. In Social, people trump technology every time. I struggle to see how any application can “improve self-esteem”. When used properly, I suppose I can stretch a little to understand the thought, but it is much more about the people. Giving access to more information and better information is critical of course, but why is that “social”. Customers do not want to feel more involved in their decisions, they want to be more involved in their decisions.

“Social CRM is a strategy first, but it will not be successful if it is not supported by people, processes and technology with defined goals and objectives. The way customers are interacting with companies and a companies’ brands is changing and this poses a challenge; a challenge of volume of new data, scale and speed.”(previous post)

In the digital age, information flows easily in directions you cannot predict and pathways you cannot control. Your customers have questions, they need answers and they want to be heard; they are a little short on patience as well.  At the click of the mouse, people expect answers, solutions and resolutions. Social CRM is about humanizing your organization, it is an enabler of positive customer experience and meeting expectations. The benefits to you are tangible, in the form of loyalty and advocacy.

Social CRM does NOT need a quadrant. What companies need is help understanding how to humanize their CRM practices.

Do Customers Want or Use Social Channels for Service?

May 11, 2012 1 comment

Customer Service using Social Media Channels is a nascent discipline, which is good, because fewer customers than most people think are actually using it – but its time will come.  Just look at the usage from the customers perspective, barely 17%. American Express and ECHO just published some findings that paint an interesting picture. I would also challenge some of the results, or methods, or both. Not because I know better, but because I am confused about what exactly they are asking and how they asked. When these results are compared with some recent research (company perspective) I conducted with  thinkJar, there is a bit of a gap between what companies are spending time and money on, and what their customers are actually using.

OK, I am going to dissect the above a bit, and ask others to tell me I am wrong. My take on the data is that while 17% said “yes”, only 1/2 of those used social to “seek a response from [the] company to help [you] with a service issue”. It is obvious that is was not a ‘select one choice’ question, more likely a ‘select all that apply’, which makes piecing it together that much more complex. Even then, these are certainly not all customer service issues. For example, ‘praise’ is certainly not an ‘issue’, but could be tracked, possibly recognized. My point here is that no matter how you look at this data, it is 17% or lower, who are using social channels for something most people would call “customer support”.

A secondary issue I am having – it is all about me, sorry – is the stated methodology. I am hoping someone can help me out: “Research was completed online among a random sample of 1,000 U.S. consumers aged 18+. Interviewing was conducted by Echo Research between February 22-29, 2012.” If this was truly an “online” survey, then the results are skewed. Meaning, when you ask people who are online if they use a digital channel you will get different results than if you stand on the street or call on the phone. But ECHO are smart folks, so I must be missing something. Any ideas?

Preferred Channel depends upon Complexity

Yes, Yes, Yes – Absolutely! It is beyond complexity too, it also includes the level of personal data involved. The complexity part makes sense, more on that in a moment. From a data perspective, at one end of the spectrum is ‘none’ the other end is that there is a social security number involved. It could be the simplest of issues, but if a customer needs to provide very private data, they will use the phone. According to the research, for a simple inquiry, ‘website or email’ was the top choice, at 38%. Now, I am going to pick on ECHO again, just a bit. There is a pretty big difference between a website view (aka; self-service) and email (please help me), but who am I to criticize? The major point to note here is that ‘Social Networking Site’ at 7% was tied for least preferred channel – even for simple!

As an inquiry becomes more complex, the preferred channel transitions to the higher touch, synchronous choices, such as face to face; 24%, up from 11%, and phone; 38%, up from 16% and (“speaking with a ‘real’ person” – love that). In the ‘more’ complex range, ‘website or email’ drops to 15%. No surprise, ‘Social Networking Site’ was tied for least preferred; 3%. Finally, for “difficult” inquiries, phone jumps to 46%, face to face up to 30%; Social finally has sole position as least preferred, at 3%. This is probably not a surprise. Is it?

Conclusion, of sorts

There is some interesting data hidden in the AMEX/ECHO report. There might even be some interesting information and a few insights, but you need to use this along with your own customer data. I wrote recently about trusting data versus your gut, and this certainly applies here. It is also very clear that while customer are increasingly using social channels for different reasons, the traditional channels are not going anywhere any time soon. Forrester data suggests that people often do not start on social channels, they start on traditional channels, switching only when the experience is poor. Are companies driving this initiative? Who let the Genie out of the bottle and who is trying to put it back in?

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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It is time to move on to ‘How’ – Where the Rubber Meets the Road for Customer Service

From products and pricing to service and social, there is no shortage of talk on what companies need to do to achieve service excellence. For the past many years, specific to ‘social’ the number of people who are more than willing to share ‘what to do’ is staggering. It is easy to say what to do, to be an advice giver. That said, telling someone how to do something is not nearly as easy.

There is not only a tremendous difference between ‘what’ and ‘how’, the ability to cross the chasm between is where companies succeed or fail. Transitioning from what to do to how to do it takes hard work, planning and execution – especially in the realm of customer service!

Customer Service Mission:
A mission is the very big, long-term end-result or achievement in your sights. A Customer Service mission is the biggest and most important thing you and your team aim to accomplish. Mission statements can be tied to financial metrics, directly or indirectly, but financial metrics can also get in the way. A mission is a ‘what’ not a ‘how’. What is your customer service mission? Do you know it by heart?

(A quick sidebar regarding a mission: The company certainly needs to have a mission, but that is not the same as the customer service mission. For example, a company mission may be to reduce the need for customer service. That is not going to fit for the customer service team, now will it.)
Service Goals and Objectives:

With respect to customer service, goals and objectives are often interchangeable – just as long as you are clear. There might be a slight nuance that goals are customer facing and objectives are internally focused, but they should be very well aligned. Each is an end game towards which actions and activities are focused.  But, we are still in the land of ‘what’, not yet progressing to ‘how’; that said each should be smaller than the mission.

Customer Service Strategy:
Here is where I think organizations lose sight of their purpose. If there is not a clear mission, or set of goals (or objectives), a strategy is almost a waste of time. The idea of a strategy is to focus the team towards achieving the goals and objectives, towards the mission.  I believe too many people jump to strategy, when they mean mission. The importance of strategy, is that we finally have moved from ‘what’ to ‘how’, hallelujah!

What is a strategy?

A well thought and constructed plan of attack with actions that will be used to achieve the desired objective. The strategy is the first, most important step in the ‘how’ process.

Customer Service Tactics and Actions:
Simply stated, tactics and actions are what is done to deliver on the strategy. This is where the rubber meets the road. Although tactics and actions are more about doing (versus thinking), in customer service, poor execution of tactics and actions will have far reaching consequences; leading eventually to inability to succeed at the mission.  The inability to succeed at the customer service layer will impact the ability for the organization to achieve the higher mission as well.

The Outline

Mission = the most important thing you and your team aim to accomplish

  • Goals = an end-game towards which actions and activities are focused
    • Strategy = the plan of attack
      • Actions and Tactics = the execution of the strategy

What it Might Look Like for You

Customer Service Mission: We at <company name> believe that you, the customer, are part of our family. We are dedicated to treating you with respect; being courteous towards you and creating a positive experience for you each and every time we connect. We hope to convey that we are a caring and genuine team, here to help you to the best of our ability; in-person, on the phone and across all digital channels.

  • Goal 1: Increase Customer Satisfaction
    • Strategy: Improve Service Experience
      • Be responsive and courteous
      • Offer Chanel Choice
      • Remove or reduce problematic metrics (AHT, FCR)
    • Strategy: Improve Self-Service
      • Offer How-to guides
      • Increase use of Video
    • Strategy: Focus on Product In-Use Experience
      • Facilitate online community
      • Incent to contribute, engage further 1:1
      • Encourage social sharing; product
  • Goal 2: Increased Loyalty and Retention
    • Strategy: Create Passionate Customers
      • Offer extra value to repeat customers
      • Train Customer Service Reps as brand advocates
      • Reward Agents with a positive experience
    • Strategy: Facilitate Organic growth
      • Encourage customers to share brand stories
      • Encourage social sharing; experience
      • Recognize Super-users
  • Goal 3: Meet Customer Expectations
    • Strategy: Manage expectations
      • Publish response time service levels
      • Consistency across interaction channels
      • Hit response targets
    • Strategy: Service with a smile
      • Empower agents to make decisions
      • Rewards agents who go above and beyond
      • Remove robotic scripts
  • Goal 4: Bring Social into the Process fold
    • Strategy: Operational Efficiency
      • Web-Self-service, let people help themselves (WSS is the doorway to SCS)
      • Decide on the Proper Process for Social Contacts
      • Proper Process to capture knowledge and reuse
    • Strategy: Offer Channel Choice
      • Deflection as an outcome, can be right (caution advised)
      • Understand your customers, where they want to talk to you
      • Active Pull to proper channel (Content /Value) – not push

So What?

I cheated a bit, and used the results of the research Sword Ciboodle and thinkJar did to drive the conversation. Well, maybe that is not cheating, but the results did show that organizations are focusing heavily on the Goals I listed above.  Gartner (8 Pillars of CRM) and Forrester also have been know to recommend building the Customer Service program with specific goals and objectives in mind – no, not just operational efficiency, but how the impact can be felt directly by the customers.

What are your Goals and Objectives as an customer service organization? If you are Vendor or Analyst reading this, what how do your clients articulate their Goals and Objectives? Do they have a Customer Service Mission Statement? Please, feel free to add to the list and do not beat me up too much for missing something. To give credit where credit is due, thanks to Clare Dorrian for editing help and good ideas!

The Contact Center of the Future

December 15, 2011 1 comment
  • The future of customer service is agility; the ability to adapt to the changing needs of your customers
  • The future of service excellence is differentiation, the ability to create personalized and engaging service experience
  • The future of service process is contextual optimization; the capability to coordinate and/or collaborate, internally, while staying focused on supporting customer jobs
  • The future of the service desktop is an intuitively designed, content rich, positive user experience
  • In the future (now actually) your team needs to provide a faster, superior, efficient service experience every day, to every customer on every channel

(Check out a video interview with Kate Leggett, Esteban Kolsky and a couple of Ciboodlers.)

A responsive organization is an integrated organization. The simple recipe here is 2 parts people 2 parts process and 1 part technology, all very important ingredients (after all what would fish be without the chips?). I am not convinced that an integrated organization equates to a social organization; but they are kissing cousins and my social business peers might be able to convince me if they believe it to be required. An integrated and coordinated organization are table stakes in order to service the ever more sophisticated, demanding and complex customer. Again, this might equate to be the social customer, that is TBD – but I do not want to get stuck on social this and that. For better or worse, each customer has the expectations of a preferred premium experience.

I started this post with the thought that I was to write a bit of a prediction post for 2012. Thus, it seemed natural to write about the Contact Center of the Future. But, I have two major struggles with the task at hand:

  1. In the Future, there will not be a ‘center’ there will be sets of roles logically aligned and systems physically connected; the people will be everywhere, the data here and there.
  2. The future will obviously include 2012, but it also includes 2013, 2014, etc.,… The point is that 2012 will be part of the journey, but not the endpoint (we are only scratching the surface).

A well-structured, modern contact center allows for the emphasis to be properly placed on helping and engaging with customers; past, present and future. With each type listed, your organization needs to show value and establish trust. The contact center of the future will allow agents to more easily add that human element to each interaction, fostering relationships, and pushing the needle in the right direction. No matter what needle you look at!

A Scenario

As I am writing this, at least in part, on Cyber Monday, I am of course influenced by the latest and greatest of tech toys. I am not yet a fan of 3D viewing in my home, but I suppose all it will take is one grand experience at a friends house and then I will be sold.  That of course got me thinking about how video will make its way into the contact center -err, communications hub, or customer service area. There will be a dedicated team for certain industries, where video will begin to make a big impact. Think business to business for auto-manufacturers or heavy equipment. As devices and technology get more complex, it will take better visualization techniques than we have currently to make things work.

Multi-channel and Cross-channel complexities go well beyond simply the scope of customer service, the contact center or marketing – these are company wide issues.

  • Fact: Customers expect to be able to make a purchase using a mobile device
  • Fact: Amazon allows anyone to scan a bar code in a physical store to compare a price
  • Fact: Displaying something in a store is more expensive than storing it in a warehouse
  • Fact: If you are planning to compete on price alone, you will lose

Here is the scenario

Customer A does some research on Google for a new television (the new 3D version I was talking about above). The customer notices that is available at the local Best Buy, around the corner. Since the new 3D glasses are involved, there is some hesitation to simply ‘pull the trigger’ online, as the glasses need the ‘will my wife actually wear these things’ question answered. Customer goes to the store, looks at the unit, tries the glasses on and begins to wander the store to ‘think things though’. Remembering the scanner application he downloaded last week, the customer scans the bar code sees that it is available at Amazon and also reads the reviews. The dilemma: The TV is available on Amazon for $200 less and it can be at the door in 2 days….

Amazon might be cheaper, but do they also have geek squad? Is Customer A confident that when he gets home he is able to mount the television on the wall, connect the wires to new fancy Dolby surround sound and internet devices. What will Amazon do when Customer A sends an email, rings the phone, looks for a forum or post the question on Twitter? Truth be told, I am not sure of those answers, but I do know that Best Buy has all of the these things as well as a contact center. I am not saying Amazon does not, I am just less familiar.

One final thought, the phone is part of the contact center of the future – just sayin’

Some other good folks who spend their days thinking about Customer Service, Contact Centers and the required technology share their thoughts regarding the Contact Center of the Future. Esteban Kolsky (thinkJar), Kate Leggett (Forrester), Steven Thurlow (CTO, Sword Ciboodle) give more than just an opinion on what is required to the needle forward.

Customer Service Through Social, Is It Worth Doing?

November 13, 2011 1 comment

It is something many smart people have written about and it ‘feels like’ the right thing to do. Talk about it in a meeting, and you get ‘head nods’ of affirmation. But, we need to ask the tough question to find out where we really stand, as well as ‘why’. I am hoping that you are willing to be part of that process. Along with thinkJar, we are conducting a research project that challenges “Social Customer Service” a bit. Practitioners are invited to participate in the research, first by visiting the Survey (It should take about 10 minutes, tops) and/or participating in a follow-up discussion, if you are ready, willing and able.

The research and analysis will help to reveal insights in four key areas:

  • Is the move to customer service using social necessary and beneficial?
  • How to move from ‘traditional’ multi-channel to social multi-channel and cross-channel customer service?
  • Knowledge management and social knowledge must collude, how can they be accomplished?
  • Are communities what make ‘social’ work for customer service? Or is something else required?

Organizations face a variety of challenges, both technical and cultural, when they are considering adopting and emerging customer service processes. Yes, as much as customer service using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Forums and Blogs has been talked about (evangelized, proselytized) on all the aforementioned channels, this is still very much an emergent practice. The survey results, interviews and subsequent analysis will help businesses to navigate the confusing and sometimes misdirected and hyped messages.  Hopefully, if all goes to plan, the results will help the decision making process when it comes to adding and  integrating new social channels effectively. One important debate topic, which the survey hopes to shed light on, is whether or not investments in social customer service is “money well spent.” Everyone’s knee-jerk reaction to this is ‘Of Course’ – but when you ask “why”, the answer is harder, and less consistent.

While Esteban will surely be chiming in with his own thoughts, here is a quick snippet: “We have been theorizing long enough, this is a good opportunity to ask the questions, directly to the practitioners regarding the direction of using social channels for customer service,” said Esteban Kolsky, principal and founder of thinkJar. “Further, this is an opportunity to understand both how the decisions are made and how the outcomes are measured.”  One of the interesting things I have done with the first part of this research is to first isolate the announcement of the survey view email to specific folks and ask my executive peers and account teams to send the request directly. This second wave is view social channels, and I have a theory that the results will be a bit different (we will  be able to segment the data).

The survey will be open for participation through November 23, 2011. If you are not interested in the survey itself, but would like to participate in the research, please reach out and we can arrange a call. Or, if you know of someone else, please take a moment and forward the link above, along. The results will be shared openly in January 2012. Again, the survey link is here we are hoping you are willing to take the time.

(For those who have read my thoughts over the past couple years, you probably know my thoughts on this topic. Even so, it is a valuable exercise to take a hard, objective look to make sure we are headed down the right path!)

Service Can and Should be Proactive – Social or Not

If there is data available, or simple process improvement that could easily elevate my service experience, as a consumer, why are companies not doing it? Telecommunications carriers are such easy targets that I hesitated to write this post. I can offer offer simple advice, as a practitioner, from both a process and technical perspective, so maybe, just may they will listen – and readers can learn as well.  It is not that hard, it is just about putting the right information in front of the right person at the right time. Interestingly, this is about two of the biggest providers in the US and both happened during a one week period.

The Response to an Issue can be more Important than the Issue Itself

I am a technologist, often an early adopter and also a pragmatist; Shtuff happens, I get it. It could be weather, it could be solar flares, it might even be a software glitch. What I have little patience for is what I believe to be ultimately quite simple process fixes, which can easily be implemented but for some reason, have not.

  • AT&T had an outage in Vermont last week. It was early in the day, 7:30 am to around 9:30am. Local technical and socially connected posted on Twitter and tried to get AT&Ts attention. The response from AT&T was slow, almost non-existent on the social channels. No recognition of the problem, until after it was fixed. The customer service team on Twitter did work through their queue from the night before (easy to spot), and did not send any broadcast messages. Some discovered that if you switched off 3G, Edge provided service for phone only. AT&T did not make that statement, a user did. AT&T did not even RT that post. Response grade C-
  • My 16yo had an issue with his HTC phone, so we did a warranty replacement. Many steps completed without any issue – including a whole 10 minutes in a Verizon store, well done. New phone arrived, activation easy, still good. The front of the little instruction packet had a number (long 10 or 15 digit number) and a note under it with a URL to FedEx for tracking. So, my 16yo took the old phone to FedEx with the enclosed label; only to find out it was a USPS label – odd, but not a huge problem. Brings the box to USPS and off it goes. One week later, Verizon calls and wants to bill us $500 for the “yet-to-be” returned phone.  We find the little packet with the tracking number, take a look at the website and tell the agent (who also checks). We also remind the agent that we have insurance on the phone and if it dropped in a lake, we would still get a new phone, no questions. Why was the call ever made (there are two reasons why the call should not have been made)? Response grade B, but the last impression is what sticks.

My simple advice:

  • Customer Service can be Proactive – It is possible, it can show you care and save inbound calls
  • Engage when it counts, walk the walk – Recognize an issue, help customers through an incident and be human, the Social part of Service is not just about PR
  • Put data where it can be most useful, turn data into information – If you have information which can prevent a call from happening, use it.

I suppose it is possible that because I live and breath this sort of thing and know what our software can do I have a different take on things, but really is it that hard?